The reason behind forming a rock ‘n’ roll band is usually quite simple – it beats getting a job and, above all, it sounds llke fun. Overnight success and fat cheques, they do happen, but generally only when the moon is blue. Much more common are the backpacking bands who take the rough with the smooth, giving the music an extra corrugated edge. This route tends to sort out the men from the sensitive, or more aptly, the sensible, the hardy bunch for whom the trip, no matter how precarious and potholed, is the adventure, not the actual arrival. Although not the most enthusiastic of gig junkies, Wire Train would undoubtedly slot into this category – sampling the ups and downs and swings and roundabouts before finally hitting a winning formula.
Wire Train first set off back in ’82 when vocalist Kevin Hunter was at college in San Francisco “majoring in big hair”. Describing himself as a “skinny, freaky, white male” he advertised for a bassist and found himself with Swedish partner, Anders. By ’84 they’d achieved a minor record deal, and recorded a debut album,In A Chamber, knocked off in a miserly 17 days. Suffering from the perennial problem of the vanishing drummer, they hooked up with the sticksman Brian, a useful performer who’d previously worked on material with one Michael Jackson.
A second LP, Between Two Words, was made in ’85, a third, Ten Women, was produced two years later with guitarist Jeffrey. Success came in moderation and time out was called before the recording of their fourth LP, Wire Train, Californian Republic or Darwin, Prince Of Feet, depending on who you believe. This was 1990.
Now they’ve signed to a big label, MCA and Kevin and Anders are seated in their record company offices prior to playing in a tent at the Reading Festival. One wonders how they manage to keep your enthusiasm.
“We always try to keep things different,” Anders offers, “all our records have a different sound ‘cos we all have diverse tastes. We get together when we feel like it, usually try out new stuff at the Paradise Lounge (medium-sized sleazy rock venue in San Francisco). When we want to have one of our quiet periods, we’re away doing our own things, maybe up a mountain somewhere, depending on the mood.”
Wire Train’s latest release,No Soul, No Strain, (MCA) comes under the broad umbrella of power pop. Produced by Bill Bottrell, whose previous credits include Madonna, the mix is one of strumming guitars, hummable tunes, uptempo rockers and coolly melodic ballads. They even get quietly funky on “How Many More Times”. Tom Petty springs to mind now and then and overall it’s a classy formula that deserves to be heard.
“There’s a lot of really good pop stuff around at the moment,” Kevin pipes up, “and I guess in some weird way we’re part of it. But what is it with you guys over here? There’s this obsession with Courtney Love’s pussy.”
Pardon? You mean the girl Hole, wife of a Nirvana. Kevin doesn’t seem in the mood to discuss music, more to reflect on past dangerous liasons with Mrs Cobain. “I mean she’s got a face like Goldie Hawn after a car crash. Apparently she’s going around at parties lifting up her shirt, saying, ‘Hey, look, Kurt just bought me a new pair’.” “The thing about Nirvana,” Anders interjects, “is that they’re just a club band, they never really wanted to be big.” That’s two things they’ve got in common with the Seattle monsters.
The following day I venture to Reading to see the live Wire Train. Whilst not exactly bringing the tent down, they are received politely enough. At least that’s what I think, until I meet Kevin afterwards. “That’s the thing about you British,” he says, “you’re so rude, you just stand there and stare with your mouths wide open.”
Lifting up his shades he concludes. “Time to try and find myself a squeezil.” (California slang for snog). And with that he disappears into the muddied masses. One thing’s for sure, they’ll never be as big as Nirvana, but Wire Train are sure to keep on coming back. Next time be sure to keep your mouths closed and your ears wide open.